In Delaware, oral leases are just as valid as written ones, except that oral leases cannot have a fixed term of more than 1 year. Whenever there is a valid lease, Delaware Law (Residential Landlord-Tenant Code) gives the tenant certain rights, like the right to a fit and habitable unit as well as the right to the return of the security deposit within 20 days of the termination of the lease.
Landlords also get their own set of “automatic” rights, which include the right to collect security deposit and to the prompt payment of rent. These rights arise automatically, which means they do not have to be agreed to or written in the lease.
Some counties and municipalities have their own set of special rights and obligations for landlords and tenants as well.
Warranty of Habitability in Delaware
Landlord Responsibilities. Landlords in Delaware are required to maintain certain health and safety standards for all of their single- and multi-family rental units. Known as the state’s “warranty of habitability,” these standards indicate that the following amenities must be provided and maintained in working order by the landlord:
- Adequate plumbing
- Safe electrical wire, lighting, and outlets
Also, under Delaware law, landlords must keep the following amenities in good working order if they are provided at the beginning of the lease or a specific lease provision requires their upkeep:
- Hot and cold running water
- An HVAC system
- Sanitation facilities
- A trash can (for disposal purposes)
- Kitchen appliances
- Washers and dryers
When a tenant in Delaware experiences a problem with one of the amenities listed above, they may request that their landlord fix the issue. Once this request is filed in writing, the landlord has 12 days to respond to the request and fix the problem satisfactorily. If proper repair services are not provided in this timeframe, a Delaware tenant may take alternative action (such as withholding rent) or use the landlord’s failure to act as justification for terminating their lease.
Tenant Responsibilities. Tenants in Delaware are required to keep their rented unit in a safe, habitable condition that does not cause long-term damage or put other tenants at risk. If a landlord observes an issue that indicates a failure to upkeep this responsibility, they may request (in writing) that their tenant remedy the issue. Tenants then have 7 days to fix the issue before their landlord has grounds to evict them.
Delaware also allows its tenants to take alternative action when making a repair becomes necessary. This includes giving tenants the ability to make repairs on their own and deduct the cost from a subsequent rent payment. In certain situations where a tenant’s habitability is put at risk, they may also choose to withhold up to 2/3 of their rent per day until their landlord performs any repairs that fall within their responsibility.
Evictions in Delaware
Landlords in Delaware may legally evict their tenant for several reasons, according to the state’s current landlord-tenant laws. These following reasons are among the most commonly cited in eviction cases within this state:
- Nonpayment of rent – After the end of any applicable grace periods, tenants must promptly pay their rent in full. If they fail to do so, landlords in Delaware may issue them a 5-Day Notice to pay. If rent is still not paid by the date indicated on the notice, then the landlord may proceed with a formal eviction via a Summary Possession Action.
- Violation of lease terms – If a tenant violates any term of their lease agreement, a landlord in Delaware may provide them with written documentation of the violation as well as 7-Day Notice to remedy the violation. If the tenant fails to act in this 7-day period, then the landlord may proceed with the formal eviction. Landlords in Delaware need not provide any written notice if a second violation of the same nature occurs within a single year.
- Illegal Acts – Delaware does not enumerate which kinds of illegal activities justify eviction (other than misdemeanors that put the property or other tenants at risk). However, when a qualifying illegal act is documented by a landlord, they may use it as justification to immediately terminate the applicable lease.
In almost all cases, evictions in Delaware begin when a landlord files a Summary Possession Action with a local court (including a small claims court). From there, formalized hearings and a trial date may be set. During that time, both the landlord and the tenant may request a jury trial, as well as file counterclaims as necessary.
Evictions without a lease. “At will” tenants who lack a written lease in Delaware are entitled to 60-days’ prior notice (in writing) when their landlord intend to eviction them. Any tenants that remain on the property after this 60 day timeframe elapses may be subject to formal eviction via a Summary Possession Action.
Illegal Evictions. Landlords in Delaware are not allowed to evict their tenants under certain circumstances or using certain justifications. This includes acting in a retaliatory manner, such as when the tenant in question has filed a formal complaint about the landlord to a local or state regulatory authority in the past 90 days. Similarly, landlords may not evict a tenant if they choose to join or indicate their intent to join a tenant union.
Also, landlords in Delaware are forbidden from evicting their tenants for discriminatory reasons. In this state, this prohibition specifically prevents landlords from evicting a tenant solely because of their race, color, religion, national origin, familial status, sex, gender identity, disability status, marital status, sexual orientation, creed, age, domestic abuse status, or source of income.
Security Deposits in Delaware
When it comes to security deposits, Delaware’s current landlord-tenant laws currently set forth the following standards and guidelines by which all parties bound to a lease agreement must abide by:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Landlords in Delaware cannot charge any kind of security deposit that exceeds 1 months’ in value. This limitation does not apply to furnished apartments, however. Also, landlords may be allowed to charge a greater value of security deposits if their tenant rental agreement is not defined and they rent on a month-to-month basis for less than a year.
- Maintenance and Interest – Delaware landlords are required to store any and all security deposits in an escrow account at a federally-insured banking institution within the state. While current state laws do not indicate if this account must incur interest or how that interest must be handled, it does state that a security deposit may not be used for other business conducted by the landlord.
- Time Limit for Return – Within 20 days of the conclusion or termination of a lease agreement, landlords in Delaware must return any and all security deposits to the applicable tenant. This includes in cases where deductions are necessary. In such a case, the landlord must send along any remaining security deposit funds as well as an itemized deduction list that estimates the cost of all repairs deemed necessary by the landlord.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If the 20 day window for security deposit returns is not observed, then the offending landlord may become liable to pay up to twice the deposits original value as a penalty.
- Allowable Deductions – Delaware landlords may deduct funds from a security deposit to offset unpaid rent at any time during the lease. They may also use these funds to make repairs necessitated by the tenant’s actions, including those associated with re-entry. Pet-related damages may also justify a deduction from the tenant’s security deposit.
Lease Termination in Delaware
Notice Requirements. In Delaware, landlords are required to give their tenants 60 days’ prior notice when they intend to terminate a lease (including in cases where the lease has a fixed end date and in cases where the tenant rents on a month-to-month basis). However, the state does not currently have an applicable statute for advance notice for renters in a week-to-week leasing system. As such, tenants in this situation are not entitled to any specific amount of notice.
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. In most cases, Delaware tenants are able to legally break their lease by utilizing an early termination clause written into their lease agreement. However, they may also utilize one of the following justifications if their situation merits it:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – If a landlord fails to make a requested repair within the statutorily-defined timeframe, a tenant in Delaware may consider themselves “constructively evicted” due to the definitionally uninhabitable nature of their unit. In such a case, an applicable tenant may immediately begin the process of terminating their lease.
- Lease Violation – Landlords who violate any terms of their lease agreement may also open the door for their tenants to unilaterally terminate their lease agreements. This includes cases of landlord harassment, which may occur when a landlord abuses their right of entry or changes the locks without the tenant’s permission.
- Domestic Violence – If a tenant provides proof that they are presently a victim of domestic violence (including stalking), they may apply for an early termination of their lease. This process can be initiated by providing a 30 day notice, as well as proof of their status as a domestic abuse victim.
- Senior Citizen or Health Issue – Delaware law allows elderly tenants or those with severe illnesses to apply for early termination based upon their need to move to a more hospitable living situation. Such a process can be initiated with a 30 day notice, which goes into effect on the first of the month following the date the notice is filed.
Landlords in Delaware are under no legal obligation to attempt to re-rent your unit after you move out. As such, you may be liable to continue paying rent on the unit until you are able to procure a new tenant to sublease the space.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Delaware
Rent control & increases. In Delaware, landlords are required to provide 60 days’ prior notice to all affected tenants when they intend to raise their rent price. While the relevant laws do not indicate if the landlord must justify this rent increase, it does indicate that the affected tenants have 15 days to respond to their landlord’s notification. This response can indicate their acceptance or declination of the new leasing terms, the latter of which warrants moving out after the 60 days elapses.
Currently, Delaware does not prohibit or preempt rent control policies at a state level. Even so, no cities or jurisdictions within the state maintain any type of rent control policy at this time.
Rent related fees. Landlords in Delaware are legally allowed to charge a number of fees associated with the leasing process. This includes late rent payment fees, which cannot exceed 5% of the total value of the missing rent payment. This kind of fee can only be charged to a tenant after the state-mandated 5 day grace period (or 8 day grace period, if the landlord has an office outside the county) ends.
Delaware landlords may also charge “bounced check” fees as necessary. These fees cannot exceed $40 in value per instance. Relevant court fees may also be tacked onto these fees when warranted.
Housing Discrimination in Delaware
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. Delaware’s civil rights legislation provides protections for several additional protected classes in a variety of fields, including housing. These additional protected classes are as follows:
- Marital status
- Source of income
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity
- Domestic abuse victim status
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Delaware Division of Human Relations adjudicates cases of housing discrimination in this state. Among other potential acts, this regulatory authority enumerates these following acts as being illegal when they target one or more protected classes:
- Refusing to rent, sell, or negotiate on an available rental unit
- “Steering” towards neighborhoods that are segregated
- Present a housing option as “unavailable” or “not right” for you
- Housing advertisements that say “no kids” or “professionals preferred”
- Refusing to respond to or act upon requests for reasonable accommodations
- Provide differing housing services or leasing terms
- Harassment, coercion, or intimidation designed to cause you to act against your own best interest
While the Delaware Division of Human Relations does not outline specific penalties for discriminatory practices online, it does allow tenants to file complaints against their landlord digitally. This same division also provides reporting resources for the deaf and hard of hearing through the same digital portal.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Delaware
These are just a few of the supplementary landlord-tenant laws that are often the subject of disagreement in Delaware.
Landlord Entry. A landlord in Delaware must provide notice of their intent to enter a rented unit 48 hours in advance. This includes in non-emergency situations when a necessary repair or inspection is warranted. This same standard for advance notice also applies to instances where the landlord intends to show the unit, but a tenant may lower this standard on a case-by-case basis to better streamline unit showings.
In an emergency, a Delaware landlord is empowered to enter without any prior notice. However, this or any other right to entry cannot be abused by the landlord, as this may constitute harassment on the landlord’s part.
Small Claims Court. Landlord-tenant disputes in Delaware are often judicially administered by the state’s small claims court system. This includes cases valued at up to $15,000 in damages, as well as eviction cases. Both plaintiffs and defendants are entitled to legal representation in these courts. More information about their proceedings can be found here.
Mandatory Disclosures. Delaware landlords are only required to make a few disclosures to tenants at the beginning of their lease agreement. These mandatory disclosures are as follows:
- Lead-based paint. For houses built prior to 1978, federal law requires landlords to provide tenants with information about lead based paint hazards. Read more.
- Authorized Authorities. All property owners’ names and addresses must be disclosed to tenants. This disclosure can come as part of the lease agreement proper or a supplementary disclosure agreement.
- Landlord Tenant Law. Landlords must provide this Summary of the Delaware Residential Landlord-Tenant Code to all new tenants at the beginning of their tenancy. If the landlord fails to make this disclosure, their tenant may claim ignorance of the law’s regulations at a later time.
Changing the Locks. Delaware does not set forth clear standards about who may and may not change the locks. Generally speaking, though, it is assumed that tenants cannot unilaterally change their own locks without their landlord’s permission. On the reverse side, though, landlords must also receive permission for lock changes from their tenant due to a state prohibition on “lockouts.”
Delaware Resources for Landlord and Tenants
Each of these following resources will help you to understand Delaware’s landlord-tenant laws at a deeper level:
This code outline all landlord and tenant obligations under Delaware state law. Referencing these statutes may be necessary if you need to bring legal action against your landlord or tenant for failing to adhere to the state-mandated obligations or the terms of their lease agreement.
As sanctioned by the state government, this organization can provide you with resources necessary to facilitate a legal and harmonious landlord-tenant relationship. This includes an opportunity to participate in programs to increase your knowledge and understanding of the state’s applicable laws.
This landing page can act as a jumping off point for anyone wishing to learn more about Delaware’s fair housing regulations. This includes tenants who are seeking to file a formal complaint against their landlord’s discriminatory actions.